Techie Tuesday: Preparing a USB stick for Windows PE

#TechieTuesday

To use a USB stick as a boot device, Windows requires a Master Boot Record (MBR) however some USB sticks are shipped without one and with just a single partition. The USB stick, therefore, needs formatting but the standard Windows format option does not prepare the disk correctly as it does not create a master boot record.  You therefore need to prepare the USB stick using other tools, for example, Windows diskpart.

  1. Start an elevated  command prompt. See Running an elevated command prompt for more information.
  2. Type:
     diskpart
  3. Type:
     list disk

  4. Identify the disk number of your USB stick.Please ensure that you correctly identify your USB stick.
  5. Type:
    select disk <n>

    Where <n> is the number of the disk previously identified as being the USB stick.  Confirm that the current disk selection is correct by typing in detail disk, this will show information relating to the currently selected disk.

    Note: Please be certain you have the disk selection correct before proceeding to the next step.

  6. Type:
    clean

    This erases all data on the USB stick.

  7. Type:
    create par primary

    This creates a primary partition on the USB stick using the maximum size available.

  8. Type:
    active

    To make the primary partition active.

  9. Type:
    format FS=ntfs LABEL="Macrium WinPE" QUICK

    This formats the newly created partition on the USB stick for legacy MBR booting.

    If your system has GPT disks and uses the newer UEFI booting standard then please type the line below instead:

    format FS=FAT32 LABEL="Macrium" QUICK

    Note: UEFI booting requires a FAT32 formatted partition and will not recognize NTFS.

  10. Type:
    exit

    once the format command has completed to exit diskpart.

  11. Type:
    exit

    Again to close the command prompt.

See also: Troubleshooting USB rescue media


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Techie Tuesday: Adding BitLocker support to Windows PE

#TechieTuesday

Note: It isn’t absolutely necessary to unlock a BitLocker encrypted drive when restoring an image of the encrypted partition. The partition will restore without a problem and will be automatically re-encrypted on reboot, however, unlocking the drive in Windows PE enables intelligent sector copy imaging and cloning, RapidDelta Restore (RDR) and also free access to the drives contents using PE Explorer.

Automatically unlocking BitLocker encrypted drives

Macrium Reflect can include the components and decryption keys necessary automatically to unlock Microsoft BitLocker encrypted drives in Windows PE.

In the Rescue Media Wizard select ‘Include optional components’ and ‘Automatically unlock BitLocker encrypted drives’

When Windows PE starts any BitLocker unlocked drives that are were attached when the recovery media was created will be automatically unlocked in PE.


Unlocking BitLocker encrypted drives using a USB stick

Automatically unlocking encrypted drives when PE starts may present an unacceptable security risk for some users. Automatic unlocking requires no user intervention and the Macrium Reflect boot menu is able to access encrypted drives without password entry. An alternative method is to de-select the ‘Automatically unlock BitLocker encrypted drives’ option in the rescue media Wizard:

You can then save BitLocker Encryption Key files (.BEK) and/or BitLocker password TXT files to the root of any USB stick. This could also be a Windows PE rescue media USB stick.

  1. In Windows Explorer, right click on any BitLocker encrypted drive and click on ‘Manage BitLocker’.

  2. In the newly opened window click ‘Back up your recovery key’

  3. In the BitLocker Drive Encryption wizard select ‘Save to a USB flash drive’ and chose the USB device you want to save to.

    After choosing the USB device you want to save the Recovery Key file to, click ‘Save’ and then ‘Finish’ in the BitLocker Drive encryption wizard. This action will save a .BEK file and/or a recovery password text file to the chosen USB device.

    Note: The .BEK file is a protected operating system file, it is hidden by default and won’t be visible within Windows Explorer. it can be made visible by changing Folder Options and de-selecting the option to ‘Hide Protected operating system files’.You can add as many keys as you have encrypted drives.

When Windows PE starts ensure that your USB flash drive is attached to your PC. Your encrypted drives will then be automatically unlocked when Macrium Reflect initializes.


Note: PE 10 1607 is only relevant when using BitLocker XTS or iSCSI, otherwise it’s a wasted download. So, if you are already using PE 10 then Reflect checks for XTS BitLocker encrypted partitions and only downloads 1607 if you are.

You can force a rebuild using PE 10 1607 by setting the following registry entry and rebuilding your rescue media.


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Techie Tuesday: Re-deploying Windows to new hardware using Macrium ReDeploy

#TechieTuesday

Introduction

Macrium ReDeploy overcomes issues with Windows boot processes to run a Windows installation on new hardware. There are a variety of scenarios where you move a windows installation to a new machine, for example:

  • Due to hardware failure or planned upgrade.
  • Moving between a physical and a virtual machine (P2V / V2P).
  • Changing a non-raid to a raid installation or legacy SATA to AHCI SATA.

Aspects of the Windows boot process can cause a boot failure after significant changes to the hardware, ReDeploy can overcome these.

Discovering hardware and association with matching device drivers is time consuming and must be undertaken while windows is being installed. It is skipped during a normal Windows boot making the boot delay acceptable.

Early in the boot process, the boot loader loads the Windows kernel (the core of the operating system) and the critical drivers required to get Windows up and running. If the new hardware configuration requires a new driver to read the disk containing the operating system then Windows will fail to boot.

When the kernel and critical drivers are loaded, the kernel starts. The kernel and its associated hardware abstraction layer (HAL) need to match the motherboard for best enabling. Drivers are optionally loaded to handle specific central processing unit (CPU) features. For a stable system, the driver needs to match the hardware, in this example, the CPU model.

ReDeploy detects changes to critical system features, locates relevant drivers and injects them into your Windows operating system so it boots.

ReDeploy makes the complex process of getting an off-line Windows operating system running, as easy and intuitive as possible. It does not, however, install the complete driver set for the new hardware. You can complete the driver installation for devices such as network and graphics adapters when your windows installation boots on your new hardware.

You need to run ReDeploy from the Windows PE Reflect rescue CD. This allows the new hardware to be detected and the configuration of the Windows system modified to enable it to boot.

Note: To transfer to a Windows Server install to new hardware use Macrium Reflect v6 Server edition for ReDeploy.

For non-server (workstation) installs use ReDeploy included with v6 Home, Workstation or the Server Edition. Please note that ReDeploy is not included in 30 trial versions of Macrium Reflect

Note: ReDeploy modifies an existing offline operating system to work with new hardware. Restore your system image to the PC being deployed before running ReDeploy. There is no need to reboot your PC after restoring an Image and before you run ReDeploy.


  1. Boot the target PC with the Windows PE rescue CD or USB equivalent. (There is a link to a video on creating a Windows PE rescue CD at the bottom of this page).
  2. Click ReDeploy Restored Image to new hardware.
  3. If you have a multi-boot system, then you will be presented with a list of operating systems, select the operating system to be redeployed. Click Next.
  4. Specify driver locations for your mass storage devices (such as RAID card).
    1. If you haven’t already, insert a driver disk for the hardware you are going to boot from.
      This will typically be the motherboard or RAID card driver CD.
    2. Click Add to add driver locations.
      You can also specify additional paths such as network folders.
    3. Click Map Drive to add a network share.
    4. Click Next.
  5. ReDeploy searches through user specified driver locations. If none are specified or no matching drivers are found then it searches removable devices such as CD’s and disk drives. ReDeploy also searches through Windows’ database of drivers.
  6. ReDeploy seeks drivers for all discovered mass storage devices and displays a list with details, Click Next.

    For each mass storage device, there are three possibilities:

    1. The driver is already installed. It might still need to be enabled at boot, this is done automatically.
    2. The driver is located, either from a CD, user specified path or from the Windows database. This driver is installed on completion of ReDeploy.
    3. No matching driver is located.
  7. If no driver is located, or you choose to override the displayed driver, then use locate driver to manually specify an .inf file.
    If you have multiple mass storage interfaces in your system, you only need to locate drivers for hardware that contains the Windows system and active partitions.
  8. Review displayed options, leaving them as default if possible. Click Next.
    If you are having trouble booting these options can help to resolve issues. For more information about them options see below:

    Option Description
    Disable reboot on system stop Set this option to stop automatic rebooting if a blue screen of death (BSOD) occurs while Windows is loading or running. If this option is not set and Windows generates a BSOD, there will be no time to note the BSOD error codes.
    Display boot drivers as they load Set this option to show which drivers are being loaded as Windows loads. Once Windows is loading and running without issue this option can be reverted using the Windows MSCONFIG utility. You can use the Pause/Break key to freeze the list as it scrolls past, use space to un-pause.
    Enable boot logging Set this option to log drivers being loaded by Windows as it loads. The resulting log file ‘ntblog.txt’ can be found in the windows folder. Once Windows is loading and running without issue this option can be reverted using the Windows MSCONFIG utility.
    Disable CPU Driver Set this option to disable CPU drivers. This may be useful if you see BSOD’s in the selected HAL drivers or system lockup on entering standby or shutdown.
    Set Hardware Abstraction Layer Set this option to choose which Hardware Abstraction Layer is to be used in the selected Windows operating system. The recommended HAL for this machine is the one initially selected. If you have the incorrect HAL configured, your Windows installation is unstable and can cause random BSOD’s or lock ups after Windows boots. In particular, if you are redeploying from or to Virtual Box with an advanced programmable interrupt controller (APIC) unchecked (the default) or very old physical hardware, set a new HAL.
    Allow Windows to detect Hardware Abstraction Layer Set this option to allow Windows to determine the best Hardware Abstraction Layer to use at boot time. This is a Vista and later only option.

     

    Enable SATA AHCI Set this option to enable support for generic SATA AHCI hardware. You will typically also need to enable an option in your BIOS for your mass storage hardware to operate in this mode. This is a Vista and later only option.

     

  9. Review the actions to be be performed and click Finish to apply them to the target operating system.A log file ReDeploy.log saves to the drive containing the redeployed operating system.After clicking Finish to inject drivers and apply your settings you see a confirmation dialog, and you can reboot your OS which should now be compatible with your new hardware.

Note: Check there is a tick in the checkbox against Check for unsupported devices each time the rescue media loads before burning the Windows PE rescue CD, so that you can add additional drivers when you boot on new hardware.


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Techie Tuesday: The Macrium Rescue Environment

#TechieTuesday

Absolutely the first thing you need to do after purchasing and installing Macrium Reflect is create rescue media.

If you lose your Windows operating system, you can start your PC using Macrium Reflect rescue media on CD, DVD, or USB stick. This makes creating rescue media the first thing you need to do with Macrium Reflect. It contains a bootable, lightweight version of Windows and a full version of Macrium Reflect.

This lightweight version of Windows is called Windows Pre-installation Environment (also known as Windows PE or WinPE) and is provided by Microsoft. When you create rescue media, Macrium Reflect downloads Windows PE automatically for you and writes it to your media. It downloads just those components you need to rescue your system.

You have the option of restoring to a new system or virtual machine using Macrium ReDeploy to reconfigure your windows installation for the new hardware.

Windows PE and the rescue environment

Windows PE is a reduced version of Microsoft Windows that is designed to boot from CD, DVD or USB on a wide range of hardware. When you run the rescue media wizard, Macrium Reflect automatically downloads the Windows PE components from Microsoft and builds the rescue environment locally. The Macrium Windows PE rescue media has the following features:

  • Fixes for boot problems
  • Macrium ReDeploy to prepare Windows to load on new hardware
  • RAID support
  • USB 3.0 support
  • CD boot
  • USB boot
  • Boot menu
  • Full version of Macrium Reflect
  • Reduced download size compared with full Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) – 150 MB to 450 MB (depending on PE version and 32- or 64-bit support)

Windows PE hardware support

The Macrium Rescue Environment needs to include support for your hardware such as USB ports, network interfaces, and in particular for your storage device if for example you use RAID disks. The default Windows PE environment supports a good selection of hardware and you can add support for further devices. When Macrium Reflect creates a rescue CD or USB, it analyses your system hardware and tries to locate drivers for unsupported devices by looking on your system. If it can’t find appropriate drivers, Macrium Reflect prompts you to provide drivers. You can provide drivers by finding driver packages on the local hard drive, looking for driver CDs supplied with the system, or downloading drivers from the web. After you provide these additional drivers, Macrium Reflect adds them to the Windows PE environment.

Note: You cannot add support for booting media because booting takes place before drivers are loaded. For example, if your CD drive is connected via an unsupported SCSI interface card or your boot menu lies on an unsupported RAID array, then the Windows PE cannot boot. Booting using a USB stick is a good workaround in this case as all USB 2 interfaces are supported by default.

Note: You can also overcome this issue using this solution.

CD, DVD and USB rescue media 

You can boot your computer into Windows PE from a CD, DVD, USB stick or USB attached external hard disk. For convenience or for automated restores to your system disk, you can add Windows PE to a boot menu that’s displayed when your system first starts. Although, do not rely upon this local copy as a rescue mechanism because it could be lost if you suffered hard disk failure or corruption leaving you without a method for rescuing your system.

Macrium Reflect creates custom Windows PE systems for each installation type by downloading the required components from Microsoft.


The Rescue Media Wizard

  1. Insert your blank CD, DVD or USB stick.
  2. From the Backup tab of the task pane, below Other Tasks, click Create bootable Rescue media.Accept the default Windows PE environment selected by Macrium Reflect or Click ‘Change PE Version’ to use a different version of Windows PE for your rescue media:Explanation of the ‘Change PE version’ dialog…
    • The device is supported by default in WinPE
    • There is a compatible driver in the host operating system
    • There is a compatible driver already present in the collection of drivers on previously created rescue mediaClick Next and add device drivers if required.This dialog enables you to add drivers for any Network and Disk controllers that are unsupported in Windows PE.A device driver is a collection of files (also referred to as a driver package) and generally comprises of:
      • The driver software, these files have a .SYS extension.
      • The driver information, or INF, file which contains the installation instructions for the drivers, these files have a .INF extension.
      • An optional security catalog that signs those drivers for operating systems that require signed drivers, commonly used on x64 operating systems, these files have a .CAT extension.
      • One or more optional supporting software library files (Dynamic Link Library) that contain further code to support the driver software, these files have a .DLL extension.


      Windows PE (WinPE) is packaged with a large collection of drivers but there are many devices that are not part of the WinPE driver package. If your device is not compatible then you must add its driver so WinPE recognizes it and communicates with your device.

      The wizard checks whether your device requires drivers adding to WinPE. It builds a list of devices in your computer that are either Hard Drive/RAID controllers, Network Interface Cards, USB controllers or USB hubs. For each of these devices it checks if:

    Example of adding a device driver…

  3. Click Next. to prepare and build the Windows PE imageNote: If you have already built the Windows PE image for this rescue media then the wizard will skip this step and advance to the Burn page<
    Option Descriptionth>
    PE Architecture Either 32 bit or 64 Bit. The default option is selected to match the architecture of the host Windows OS.
    Include optional components Select this option to add BitLocker Encryption and iSCSI support to the rescue media. Please note that adding these components may several minutes to the creation process.
    See Adding iSCSI support to Windows PE for more information on using iSCSI in Windows PE
    Automatically unlock BitLocker encrypted drives Select this option to automatically unlock all BitLocker encrypted drives when Windows PE starts.
    See Adding BitLocker support to Windows PE for more information on using Windows PE to access BitLocker encrypted drives.
    Default base WIM Use the standard Microsoft Windows PE base installation. Macrium Reflect executables will be added to this to crate the rescue media,
    Custom Base WIM Use your own customized WIM for the rescue media. This is an advanced topic not covered in this help.

    Click Next to begin the WIM build process. If necessary, files will automatically be downloaded from Microsoft to complete the build process.

    You can also select the PE Components .zip file by clicking the ‘Browse’ button in the download dialog. The PE .zip file can be downloaded by using the Reflect download agent ‘ReflectDL.exe’.
    See Installing and updating Macrium Reflect offline for more information on downloading the PE components separately.

    A detailed log of the build process is saved to: ‘C:\ProgramData\Macrium\waik\waiklog.txt’

     

  4. Once complete you can choose where to burn the media<
    Option ________________ Description
    Rebuild Click this button to advance to the ‘Prepare Windows PE image’ wizard page to rebuild the Windows Image (WIM).

    Note: If updates are available for your rescue media then you will receive a message box prompting you to rebuild.

    Check for unsupported devices Select this option and Windows PE will prompt to add drivers for unsupported Network Interface and Disk controllers when started.
    Prompt for key press Select this option to enable the ‘Press any key to boot from CD or DVD…’ prompt when your PC starts. This is useful if you want to bypass Windows PE and boot into your host Windows OS.
    CD/DVD burner Select this option to choose a CD/DVD device that you are using to create your rescue media.

    To save the rescue media to an .ISO image file for burning with any burning software. Click the drop-down list of burners and select ‘Create an ISO image file’:

    USB Device Select this option to save your rescue media to a bootable USB stick or external hard drive.
    Enable multiboot MBR/UEFI Only applies if you are saving your rescue media to a USB device. This option enables the USB device to boot both legacy MBR and GPT/UEFI for modern motherboards. Please consult your motherboard user manual for information on choosing these boot options at PC startup.

    Note: CD/DVD media is always created multi-boot MBR/UEFI

    Technicians USB Applies to Macrium Reflect Technicians license keys only. See Technicians portable application support for more information

     

  5. Click Finish.to create your rescue media

To complete the process, boot from your Rescue media to ensure it works correctly.

After Windows PE loads, Macrium Reflect runs. The Windows PE user interface for Macrium Reflect is identical to that of the main application and offers the same core functions.

If you are using USB media, you can make the Macrium Rescue Environment compatible with multiple computers:

  1. Use the Rescue media wizard to create a bootable USB rescue device on one computer.
  2. Repeat the process with each other computer in turn using the same USB device.

You can read more about creating rescue media here.

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Techie Tuesday: Restoring and browsing

#TechieTuesday

Macrium Reflect can restore disk partitions exactly as they were when the backup was taken. With File and Folder backups you can restore all or selected files and folders to their original or new location.

You can also explore any backup or image file in Windows Explorer. This powerful feature enables you to restore individual files or folders by simply using copy and paste.

To restore whole computers, including boot partitions, Macrium Reflect uses Windows PE, a cut down version of Windows. On a working system, when you restore to an earlier time, Macrium Reflect reboots into the Windows PE operating system, carries out the requested restore, then boots back into the restored operating system. On a system that is not working, to restore to an earlier time, you need to boot from your Windows PE rescue media, whether that is a CD, DVD or USB-stick. The rescue media contains Macrium Reflect so that you can carry out the restore, then boot back into the restored operating system.

Although this all sounds complex, it really is very simple to perform with Macrium Reflect leading you through each step.

Finally, if you have Macrium Reflect Server Plus, it has a rich feature set for restoring backups of SQL databases and Microsoft Exchange Servers while giving you the power to restore to any time and granularity right down to an individual email.


Further reading:


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Techie Tuesday: Verifying your backup

TechieTuesday

We recently ran some polls on Twitter to about backup strategies. A worrying statistic was that 64% of respondents have never tested their backups!

There are a number of ways you can test your backups and a combination of two or three is advisable.

Verify a backup

Backup verification checks the entire contents of backup files against MD5 message digests (Hashes) created from the source data when the backup was created. If data is read back with a different MD5 hash to the hash that was generated when the data was written, it is guaranteed to be corrupt. Verification can be performed automatically after the backup is created (which will add more time to the backup process) or manually later. You can read more here: Verifying image and backup files

Test Rescue Media

Test your Rescue Media by rebooting with the Rescue Media in the computer (if it doesn’t work see My CD/DVD Rescue Media will not boot).

Mount an image

By mounting image files in Windows Explorer you can browse or explore an image and access all the files in a backup. The backed up data appears as a temporary drive in Windows Explorer that you can access, just like any other drive, mounted with its own drive letter. Individual Files and Folders can easily be recovered by using Copy and Paste. You can read more here: Browsing Macrium Reflect images and backups in Windows Explorer

Test Restore an image

If the image contains only data, restoring it is very simple using Macrium Reflect. You can restore it back to its original location or to another disk without interrupting the operating system. Restoring a Data image from within Windows

System images of, for example, the C drive, contain operating system files so it is not possible to restore files in real time because they will be in use by the operating system. To resolve this Macrium Reflect boots Windows PE. It then restores the file system before rebooting again and loading the restored Windows OS. Although this sounds complex, it really is very simple to perform. For restoring a system image see Restoring a system image

Create a Virtual Machine from an image

Macrium viBoot enables you, to instantly create, start and manage Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines using one or more Macrium Reflect image files as the basis of the virtual machine storage sub-system. At a minimum, viBoot enables you to boot into the images you have made using Macrium Reflect, for validation purposes, or to retrieve data from old applications stored on a bootable image. At an enterprise level, you could recover an entire network environment in minutes. Macrium viBoot

To convert an image into a virtual machine using other hypervisors see Converting a Physical machine to Virtual Machine


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